Technical Communicators of Florida and Beyond,
It’s that time of year again! Not just me being another year older (the novelty’s really wearing off now), but also our chapter’s Annual Employment Panel!
It doesn’t matter what stage of your schooling or career you are in. A little free career and employment advice is never a bad thing, right? You never know when it might come in handy. So with that in mind, I think I should let the three panelists’ bios do most of the talking:
Stephanie Young has been a technical communicator for 13 years. She graduated from UCF in 2003 with an English—Creative Writing BA and a minor in Studio Art. In fact, she started right out of college at Lockheed Martin on Lake Underhill as an illustrator. Now she manages 16 technical writing team members on 27 different contracts for the Air Force and government customers. Stephanie has also been a program manager in charge of an Army contact for technical publications and training, and she worked in configuration management for AT&T Government Solutions. She is a certified Army instructor who has routinely performed training for soldiers and reservists.
Scott Dorsett has been in Central FL since 1993, since graduating from UF (Go Gators!) He has worked in staffing/direct placement/recruiting since 1999. A major focus of his recruiting since 2007 has been in IT, though he continues to recruit in almost all areas including administrative, accounting, marketing, sales, and teaching. Scott has been with Riptide Software for 3 years, where he handles recruiting, most HR functions, and some account management.
Matthew Carlisle is a seasoned and successful veteran of the recruiting profession with over 6 years of experience specializing in permanent and temporary staffing at mid, upper, and executive levels. His experience spans multiple industries, but is primarily focused in professional and technical skill-sets. Most of his clients are located in the Southeast, but he’s partnered with clients and candidates from across the globe. He takes an active approach to recruiting, and he especially values having exclusive and long-term relationships with candidates and clients. Matthew believes the “art” of recruiting lies in building open and honest relationships.
Also in this issue: Debra Johnson brings a strong case against the continued use of PDFs in tech comm. Check it out!
Manager, Communications Committee
By: Alex Garcia
(Orlando Central) Florida Chapter, STC
This month’s President’s Corner is a bit of a housekeeping smorgasbord. But first, in theme with our employment panel coming up on March 23rd, I just celebrated 5 years of service with Lockheed Martin. Here’s hoping I can walk in the footsteps of STC Fellows and Associate Fellows W.C. Wiese, Dan Voss, and Mike Murray, who all spent over 30 years with the company. Rumor has it 30 years comes with a lobster lunch and a parking spot.
March through May are important months for the Society internationally, as we hold elections and then gear up for the STC Summit. This year, the preeminent gathering of Technical Communicators from the world over will be held in Washington, D.C. at the Gaylord National Harbor from May 7th-10th. All the information you need is at http://summit.stc.org/.
Your STC (Orlando Central) Florida Chapter administrative council and elected officers have been working day and night to convince their companies to sponsor their Summit attendance. Have you? There is still a chance! Prices go up on March 31st, so get started right now. The Society has even provided a template for how you can convince your boss!
Don’t forget, Orlando is hosting next year. So, we need volunteers to staff a table at this year’s Summit. If you end up going to the Summit, please drop me a line at email@example.com as soon as you register. Let’s represent the City Beautiful in the best way possible.
But Alex, my STC membership accidentally lapsed! Can I still renew and take advantage of the reduced member rates at the Summit?
Absolutely! We would love to have you back. Renewing members receive 10% discount on the annual membership fees: When a previous member renews their STC membership today as a Classic, New TC Professional, or Student member, they will save 10% on the membership dues. The discounted pricing will show up in their shopping cart automatically. All the info you need is at STC membership renewal. But don’t forget to add Orlando Central Florida as your home chapter so we can continue to bring you excellent professional programs.
Until Next Time,
By: Michelle Flores
Staff Writer, Memo to Members
On Thursday, February 23rd, the Orlando Central Florida chapter of STC held its monthly meeting at IHOP on University Boulevard near UCF. The topic was a follow up to last year’s presentation of the Challenger Disaster. This year, the topic was The Ethics of the Columbia Disaster presented by UCF’s Dr. Paul Dombrowski.
Dr. Dombrowski’s presentation addressed some of the reasons why a tragedy such as this would be allowed to occur after the Challenger Disaster. This included information from a report by the investigative team after the tragedy. One thing that Dr. Dombrowski pointed out as a positive note was that the report from this second tragedy was much stronger, clearer, and overall a much better technical document than what was provided after Challenger.
This presentation and review of technical communication surrounding the Columbia Disaster was not only informative, but was also quite interesting. I truly enjoyed learning about the ethics of the Columbia Disaster.
Article originally written by Hannan Saltzman, Zoomin Software, October 10, 2016
With permission, adapted by Debra Johnson, Manager – Technical Communication.
For years, companies have been turning to that old standard format – PDF – “Portable Document Format” to publish product documentation…and while technical communicators have been arguing, begging, and threatening for this to change… old habits and mindsets die hard.
Thankfully, as far as customers are concerned — and mercifully, as far as Technical Communicators/Writers are concerned — a growing number of companies are seeing the light and realizing that, while PDFs still have their place on the communication landscape, product documentation is not one of them.
In this article, we highlight the five key reasons why companies that refuse to say farewell to PDFs for this purpose may be invariably saying goodbye to potential customers:
1. User experience with PDFs is dreadful
According to the evidence-based user experience research, training, and consulting company Nielson Norman Group, there is one – and only one – valid reason for companies to use PDFs: it makes life easier for customers to print documents that may be too-large-for-comfort to read on screens.
For everything else, PDFs commit a series of unpardonable “usability crimes” including:
- Documents in this format rarely follow guidelines for web writing as authors write for print vs. web
- The user experience is jarring since PDFs live in their own environment with various commands and menus
- Crashes and software compatibility problems are common – and can be too complicated for less tech-savvy customers
- Documents can take too long to download and navigate because they’re often large, and over-loaded with graphics and space-hogging style elements
- Documents are typically optimized for paper – not scrolling – which results in all kinds of rendering issues, including extremely tiny or distorted fonts
- Documents lack internal navigation, which means customers rarely find the answers they need quickly, easily, or in some cases, at all
Jakob Nielson, Ph.D., a User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, which he co-founded with Dr. Donald A. Norman (former VP of Research at Apple Computer), established the “discount usability engineering” movement for fast and cheap improvements of user interfaces and has invented several usability methods, including heuristic evaluation. He holds 79 United States patents, mainly on ways of making the Internet easier to use.
According to Dr. Nielson, “Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear blobs of text that are optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online. PDFs are good for printing, but that’s it. Don’t use it for online presentations. Users hate PDFs.”
2. PDFs are not cheap – even if they seem that way
Many companies that still use PDFs for product documentation point to the fact that they are cheap and easy to create… or so they say. After all, why invest in a new product documentation distribution system when good ‘ol PDFs are doing the job?
But that IS the problem: PDFs ARE NOT doing the job. We’ve already highlighted why customers hate PDFs. But CEOs, CIOs, and CFOs shouldn’t be fans either, because contrary to popular belief, PDFs are not a cost-effective solution. Since documents are static snapshots, maintaining and updating them is very time consuming, which translates into excessive labor costs and inaccurate information out with the reader. What’s more, the updating process can be riddled with errors and inconsistencies, leading to re-work – and yet more labor costs.
3. PDFs do not drive self-support
A survey by digital marketer Steven Van Belleghem found that 56 percent of customers prefer self-service options when conducting pre-sales research, and 48 percent of customers want self-service options when addressing post-sales issues. And along the same lines, the Aspect Consumer Experience Index found that 65 percent of customers feel good about a company and themselves when they can answer a question or solve a problem on their own.
However, because PDFs are “big, linear text blobs”, customers invariably run into obstacles sooner or later. When (not if) this happens, they have no choice but to open a support ticket or call a support agent – which, according to survey done by Nuance Communications®, is a step that 59 percent of customers find frustrating.
4. PDFs do not deliver actionable intelligence
PDFs fail to deliver what may be more valuable to some companies than revenues: actionable intelligence into how customers are behaving, what they’re thinking, and what they want. At most, companies can track the number of downloads, which is about as meaningless as capturing generic website visitor numbers.
5. PDFs are not SEO-friendly
Research done by communications agency Fleishman-Hillard found that 89 percent of consumers turn to Google, Bing, and other search engines to get information on products and services prior to making purchases. Unfortunately – and contrary to what many companies believe – PDFs aren’t very SEO-friendly.
Yes…as long as the content was created as a text document and not an image, PDFs can be indexed. But the entire PDF will be indexed as a single URL, even though it may contain numerous distinct sections that should be indexed as separate web pages. While this may improve over time, this ultimately makes content far less discoverable and accessible. Google® can index Adobe PDFs, but it actually does not like to. PDF documents do not have the HTML tag structure that informs Google what it is about and helps to rank the content for target keywords. Thus, PDF files can confuse Google’s search engine, which in turn prefers keywords and text-heavy documents over PDF ones.
What’s more…customers, who do in fact see a search result link that promises to give them the answers they want, must start from the beginning of the PDF rather than being taken to the specific section or topic that interests them. For very small documents this may not be an issue, but for larger documents, it is clearly a problem.
The Bottom Line
As we noted earlier, PDFs still have their place on the communication landscape, and the original authors of this article certainly aren’t calling for their extinction. For example, there are some valid PDF applications, such as specific files that are meant to be used as tools (e.g. excel spreadsheets), contracts, or educational material that must be printed in a specific format (i.e. the documents aren’t meant to be accessed through a browser, but rather printed on paper).
However, when it comes to product documentation, PDFs are clearly part of a problem rather than the solution. They frustrate customers, exasperate technical communicators (writers), and rather than being cheap and effective, they’re costly, inefficient, and incapable of delivering actionable intelligence. That’s the bad news.
The good news at my company is, we are working to change mindsets. We are working to dynamically create, publish, and update content across all product lines, and to gain content-driven analytics, which we can use to support customer success, drive sales, reduce support costs, and increase profitability.
We want to say goodbye to PDF “linear text blobs” as product documentation, and say hello to providing answers, quicker enabling us to get closer our customers than ever before…aligning all of our content along the customer journey.
Technical Communicators of Florida and Beyond,
We have liftoff. My wifi is on the fritz this fine February evening, so I am bringing this to you live from a certain big-name coffee shop.
Whilst I type to break the sound barrier before the dining room closes, let me just say that this month’s meeting topic is very near and dear to many of us (our chapter’s president included — check out his very personal account later in this edition).
We are following up on last year’s smash hit topic, The Ethics of the Challenger Disaster, with a sequel that we wish would never have been required: The Ethics of the Columbia Disaster. Please join us and our speaker, UCF’s own Dr. Paul Dombrowski, for a sobering reminder of just how much responsibility we bear as technical communicators. This is a must-see.
Manager, Communications Committee
By: Alex Garcia
(Orlando Central) Florida Chapter, STC
“The Columbia Shuttle just blew up. Poor them and their families! :(“ — a blue notification on my Kyocera flip phone.
It was a sunny Saturday morning in February 2003 when, through sleepy eyes, I received the bone-chilling text message from a college classmate in the Aerospace Engineering program at UCF. I turned on CNN and was glued to the TV for the rest of the day. Seven lives ended over the swamplands of Texas and Louisiana on February 1, 2003. The Space Shuttle Columbia, which had been damaged by falling External Tank foam during launch, succumbed to the heat and pressures of reentry. They never had a chance.
In the months that followed, somewhat selfishly, I wondered what this would mean for my chosen field of study—my five year plan, after all, was to work for the Space Shuttle Program at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The accident grounded the Space Shuttle fleet for over two and a half years, and led to President George W. Bush setting a program cancellation date of 2010. A Congressional panel was called, a report was published. The three remaining orbiters (Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour) would fulfill the Shuttle Program’s primary mission of finishing construction of the International Space Station and refurbishing the Hubble Space Telescope before limping into museums where they would inspire future generations of scientists.
It was in the period following “Return to Flight” that I actually set foot onto KSC as a contracted employee, specifically a Co-op student. I felt a sense of pride about working for the Shuttle Program, but there was a sensible agitation in the workforce. Our program was a lame duck, but, despite the cancellation, we would get every single mission off the ground and back home safely. It was as if we held out hope that each time we excelled, the program would be extended. Quite honestly, everyone loved their job and didn’t want the ride to end.
Through my college-aged naiveté, I sat in the background of meetings and listened to how decisions were made with painstaking attention to detail. One of the results of the Columbia report was an emphasis on letting any employee speak up during a situation they felt uncomfortable in. Everyone, me included, was handed a “TIME OUT!” card: a business card with the phrase in bold red letters to attach to their badge holder. If one of these cards ever hit a table, a shop cart, or the floor, the team would immediately stand down wherever they were and talk about the problem. In my career, I only saw one of these slammed on a conference room table during a fairly heated exchange between two engineers. The entire room audibly gasped at the gravity of the TIME OUT! card being employed. Cooler heads prevailed and business eventually continued as planned.
NASA had disasters in 1967, 1987, and 2003. That is three different generations of engineers. It could be argued that enough time passed between the accidents that attrition caused organizational knowledge to dissipate, lessons to be forgotten, and history to repeat itself. Organizational change takes years, sometimes decades, and longer if turnover occurs in key positions. As engineers and technical communicators, we have an ethical responsibility to verify all the information in our documents is accurate, especially if we attach our signatures to them. I would say that the lesson of the Columbia Disaster would be this: If you ever feel uncomfortable about a decision at work, call a TIME OUT!
By: R.D. Sharninghouse
Orlando Central Florida Chapter, STC
On Thursday, December 15, 2016, the Orlando Central Florida chapter of STC held their Holiday Social at Black Rock Bar & Grill.
The dinner also included a brief presentation from guest speaker, Jack Molisani. Jack talked about his personal, professional, and financial growth. Below is a list of recommended books from Jack’s presentation that inform and inspire growth:
- How to Out Negotiate Anyone (Even a Car Dealer) by Leo Reilly
- The Millionaire Next Door (Original) by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
- The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
- The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
- The Wealthy Spirit by Chellie Campbell
- Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock
Jack also made the offer to look at anyone’s resume. You can contact him at:
Learning About… Learning! January’s Topic is DITA and Beyond.
By: Jonathan Neal
Staff Writer, Memo to Members
“Please take out a pen and paper!”
Rob Hanna’s instructive DITA webinar begins with mental exercise. L’horreur! But there is no way around it. If we truly wish to communicate content to our readers, we must first learn about learning.
On January 19th, the Orlando Central Florida (OCF) chapter of STC held its monthly meeting at the IHOP on University Boulevard. Those in attendance viewed STC fellow Rob Hanna’s webinar, Leveraging Cognitive Science to Improve Topic Based Authoring. Mr. Hanna is president of Precision Content Authoring Solutions Inc., and with over 20 years’ experience under his belt, he knows his way around information writing. Here is a brief summary of his lesson:
The amount of data we encounter every day is increasing at a rapid rate, roughly doubling every two years. Therefore, we as technical writers must help our readers digest large amounts of data with minimal cognitive strain. One way we can accomplish this is by employing Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA).
DITA is an XML vocabulary that enables readers to digest data more easily. For the uninitiated, XML is a metalanguage akin to HTML that we can use to “mark up” data with custom tags and distribute it to any number of separately formatted files, fully accessible across systems. In effect, XML enables us to “repurpose information instead of rewriting it,” which saves time and effort. Rob Hanna has mastered this efficient strategy by establishing his own “content standards for the enterprise,” which he uses to systematize all of the XML he works with. This doesn’t just help him stay organized—it also helps his readers digest the data more easily.
Topic Types and Memory Types
In DITA, there are 3 major topic types, each associated with a different type of memory:
|Topic Type||Associated Memory Type|
|Concept||Semantic Memory (conscious understanding via study)|
|Task||Procedural Memory (subconscious understanding via repetition)|
|Reference||Working Memory (forgotten quickly)|
Technical writers can use this knowledge to compartmentalize content according to topic type, thereby reducing cognitive strain. Mr. Hanna refers to this process as “pre-digesting” or “chunking” information for readers to absorb. In some cases, this can double the amount of information readers are able to retain. Pretty good, wouldn’t you say?
DITA and Beyond
Not all companies use DITA the same way, and that is why Rob Hanna emphasizes the importance of finding a balance. Pre-existing style guides may favor a different approach. If it works for the target audience, all is well; if not, then it may be time for a revision. If possible, try to incorporate the 4 fundamental needs for retention: consistency, chunking, relevance, and labeling.
Rob Hanna has developed a further-improved XML vocabulary, one that adapts information mapping principles and combines them with the pre-existing DITA formula. He adds two “precision content” topic types: process and principle. Each of his five information types is compartmentalized, fully taking advantage of XML’s custom tagging functionality. We may use this formula or develop our own—this is a freedom afforded to us by DITA and XML. To learn more, you may visit learningdita.com for some free online courses on the subject.
February’s meeting will cover the Columbia disaster and the ethics surrounding it. Stay tuned for more, and until then, good luck and happy writing.
PSA #1: Congratulations to Emily Wells, who is now co-manager of the mentoring program with Dan Voss!
PSA#2: 2018’s STC Summit will be in Orlando, FL. The event takes place at Hyatt Regency Orlando on I-Drive, the hotel formerly known as Peabody Orlando. We are looking for volunteers to help table the event. If you are interested, please contact STC Orlando’s president Alex Garcia via this email: firstname.lastname@example.org